London paramedics warn of delays, burnout as ER backlogs surge | CBC News


The paramedics union in London-Middlesex is calling for more support as ambulances grapple with off-load delays due to emergency room backlogs only expected to increase with flu season on its way. 

“Every day we’re seeing wait times get worse and worse and worse and the backlog get worse and worse and worse, and that puts a strain on the paramedics,” said Jason Schinbein, president of Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 147 representing paramedics in the region. 

Tuesday, a video captured 15 ambulances waiting outside of London Health Sciences Centre’s Victoria Hospital.

Ambulances parked outside of LHSC emergency

A number of ambulances were parked outside of the emergency entrance at London Health Sciences Centre’s Victoria Hospital on Nov. 1, 2022.

“We’ve seen crews where they’ll bring a patient into the hospital at the start of their shift and they’ll still be waiting with that same patient 12 hours later,” he said. “It’s hard to look at another human sitting in the hallway suffering and not really being able to do much about it.”

‘The biggest thing that we’re seeing is burnout’

The increasing stress and frustration is taking a toll on paramedics.

 “The biggest thing that we’re seeing is the burnout. We’re seeing paramedics quit at rates that I’ve never seen in my entire career,” Schinbein said. This month, he saw three experienced paramedics leave because they just couldn’t do it anymore.

“Paramedics are designed to be pre-hospital care providers,” he said. “Our role was never really designed to be hallway monitors or a stopgap to piece this system together when it’s clearly failing right now.”

The union is also raising alarm about the effects on patients. “We’re seeing times where somebody with chest pain, somebody with symptoms that we might be concerned could evolve to something that’s life threatning, even those patients are waiting longer than we’ve ever seen,” Schinbien said. 

Flu season may increase offload delays

“As we start moving into the winter and into the flu season, we anticipate our call volume is going to increase,” said Adam Bennett, deputy chief at Middlesex-London Paramedic Service.

“As offload delays increase, that’s fewer ambulances in the community to be able to respond to calls,” he said. 

It’s important for the public to still call 9-1-1 in any kind of medical emergency, despite increasing volume and offload delays, Bennett said.

A paramedic talks on the phone at the Victoria Hospital Emergency Department. (Dave Chidley/CBC)

In an email to CBC News, officials with the paramedic service said average wait times this week for transfer of care to hospitals in the region is 1 hour and 55 minutes. The longest delay this week was 11 hours and 35 minutes.

The timer for ambulance off-load delays starts 30 minutes after a paramedic crew arrives at the hospital, and stops when paramedics are able to transfer care to the hospital, the paramedic service says wrote. 

CBC News reached out to Middlesex-London Paramedic Service and the Ontario Ministry of Health for numbers of code zero incidents in the region, when no local ambulances are available for emergency calls.

Paramedics are seeing ambulances coming from outside of London to answer calls multiple times a day, meaning none were available in the city at the time, Schinbien said. He wants to see more transparency on official counts. 

Strategies for change

In a statement to CBC News, the Ontario Ministry of Health said it is collaborating with Ontario Health, paramedic services, hospital leadership, and other sector partners to reduce offload times and increase ambulance availability through both short- and long-term strategies.

“Our government continues to work in partnership with Middlesex-London EMS to provide the support they need to maintain ambulance availability in their community,” the statement said. The ministry said it spent more than $20 million in a land ambulance services grant, along with more than $675,000 through a dedicated offload nursing program in the region. 

But Schinbein still thinks more needs to be done. 

“We’ve heard from the government, from our leaders in healthcare, that they’re working to address these issues. But all we’ve seen is these wait times and these delays, especially in London, get worse and worse and worse,” said Schinbien. 

“I hope people are realizing that the system needs help and it needs support,” he said. “We want to see change so that everybody in Ontario gets a better healthcare system, not just the bare minimum.”

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